Saturday, January 28, 2012

making flour tortillas

January is a tough month to be a Penny twin. Admittedly, it’s probably a hard month for everyone. But when you are raised like a Labrador retriever where your “keeper” opens the back door in the morning and lets you come and go as you please and carry things in your mouth and consume meals from bowls on the floor, when the winter rolls in – things get rough. And lately it hasn’t even been that brisk and wintery so we can’t enjoy sleds, boots, coats, gloves (pronounced glo-bes) and excessive snowmen-making. Its been drizzly, cool, raw and just kind of ugly.

Its like dementors are breeding.

What better way to try and beat this spirit than by baking bread, right?

So I picked up a copy of Breads and tried to find the right recipe for us to enjoy. Something which sounded sunny. Warm. Hands-on. Circular.

We went for fajitas.

And because I like to dress up and play homesteader, we had a fresh supply of freshly milled wheat flour to work with (I am totally obsessed with my KitchenAid attachments. You have no idea.)

Admittedly, I’ve never made fajitas before – so I thought I could get my 21st century normal children Henry and Sophia situated with something stimulating (a movie on the computer) and have a try at the dough. By myself. And then let them help with it the second time around. 

Two fatal flaws in this scenario:

First, I assumed I had normal children who would take watching Thomas the Train on Amazon over cooking in the kitchen with mom while she played with flour and tut-tutted about not having ample counter space.

Second, I’m not sure if there will ever be a second time around. This magazine is 146 pages of pure bread awesomeness, and I might run out of leavening agent before the recipe cycles around again.

By way of tangent, can I tell you how great it is when your son thinks that the “port” on the front of the stand mixer (used for attaching various mixer attachments) is a “P.T.O.” (for those new to the tractor and large truck world – that is a Power Take Off.) It creates a whole new context for baking in the kitchen, really.

So my incredible little offspring made short work of kneading, making balls and rolling them out. I got placed on skillet duty. 

Have you ever eaten a homemade flour tortilla? I think I'm going to take orders. They are pretty incredible. Their delicate flaky-ness kind of reminds me of porcelain.  And stuffed with veggies and cumin? To die for.

2 cups flour (we used wheat, but I guess all-purpose would be fine too – I’ll let you know if I ever get around to attempt #2)
1 tsp salt (not kosher, we used table)
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup warm water (plus 2 tablespoons)

Combine ingredients in a bowl
On a heavily floured surface, turn dough over
Knead by hand for 3-4 minutes
Divide dough into 8-9 balls (we were supposed to have 8, but I ended up with 9 because when we count, the kids skip 5 – long story – but I thought I was overcompensating and I think they actually said 5)
Let them hang out covered for a bit (we did 20 minutes)
Roll out as thin as you dare
On a heated and well-oiled skillet put a tortilla in the pan
Cook for 1 minute
Cook the other side for one minute
Put on a plate (the magazine said a clean dishtowel, but those are hard to come by mid-week, so we used a dish instead)
Fight off husband with spatula to avoid eating all the fajitas before rest of dinner is ready; encourage children to do the same
Eat what’s left

Word got around at work that I had this incredible tortilla experience – and when I went in, discovered a bag, pre-measured of fresh ground blue corn flour from my boss on my chair. (I work in the type of place where we share things - and measure them. You have to look before you sit. Important advice, if you ask me.

So I guess, like it or not, I’ll have to make them again. Not that I think Henry and Sophia will mind. 

PS - the recipe said they could be amoeba shaped - so don't make fun of their non-circular-ness. We just followed the directions...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

our owl-themed birthday party

I guess I had no idea how popular owls were until I started looking. You see, I don’t know what it is with Henry and Sophia and owls. They just started liking them. Maybe its because our neighbor has an owl garden statue they are enamored with (and now notice its absence). Or maybe they just like them. The danger, of course of ‘liking’ things, at least in my family, is that once this knowledge gets out, you find yourself overwhelmed with a collection of them – figurines, coffee mugs, tree ornaments, slippers, and bath soap – until just the sight of the thing causes an aversion so great you need immediate medical attention. I would like to avoid this, if at all possible, with H and S. 

So everything for this owl-infestation had to be handmade and most importantly, somewhat disposable/reusable/up-cyclable/able to be eaten or put in the backyard once post-party. You get what I mean.

So for the past few weeks, we’ve had a fabulous time making everything and gathering inspiration, ideas, and practicing plain unabashed plagiarism. As a plus, the whole thing was also insanely cheap.
I am totally, absolutely in love with freezer paper stencils (where have you been all my life?!) these will be the subject of a future post, as I think H & S are in love too - so easy to iron, paint, remove. And way less mess than I ever thought
The hats were a homemade creation by my brother's girlfriend at Salem Style - absolutely adorable

A total Pinterest swipe - A Japanese lantern that I tried to tape eyes, wings and a mouth to. I think someone ended up with an owl-pupil in their lunch when the tape disengaged, but hey, don't say you left without a party favor. Behind them are paper plate owls we had been working on for two weeks - H & S did all the coloring and gluing
A happy birthday encore that sounded much closer to Jingle Bells, but who's keeping track?

Musical entertainment provided by the highly talented fearsome-twosome
Our digital illustration made for a great welcome-sign - and it let everyone know they were at the right owl-themed-second-birthday party (there may have been more that day, you never know...)
We wanted a way to display all the little-guests' crafts - so Tony went into the basement and came up 5 minutes later with this awesome owl perch he made from the lining of a wrapping paper roll he pulled out of recycling, a cigar box and dowels. I know, he's just crazy...
Several years ago, my parents had a northern barred owl in their pine tree - I used up a whole roll of film photographing him (and thought then, what am I going to do with all these pictures? Well, seven years later, I had my opportunity) - they made a great backdrop for all of the owls we made out of pine cones, acorn tops, felt, and H & S's new favorite crafting piece - pom-poms

Mantle owls lined up - okay, we got a little carried away...

I've seen other people do this - and I must admit, their attempts came out looking much more like the feathery inspiration. Admittedly, the pizza crust came out amazing - and will be the subject of a future post - two year olds and homemade pizza dough? A match made in heaven. We also made chicken-or-the-egg salad sandwiches (one that had peppers for wings and olives for eyes, but came out so abysmal, I couldn't embarrass you by photographing it)
Attempt #2 at the owl cake - this time I gave him tail feathers, made him blue and a nest of pretzel sticks to sit on - the wings are made out of sugar cookies I cut and frosted with a small leaf cookie cutter.

Too much cake batter leads to extra cupcakes in need of decorating? Arguably, not a bad thing.
After twenty minutes in the oven, the pizzas looked no more like owls than when they went in. You can kind of see bird features if you squint.
I am especially horrible at folding paper hats (after 20 minutes they were still 8.5 x 11 sheets) - so instead we made masks for our little guests...

...and then put them on the paper bags (which have an insanely easy owl craft inside - two paper plates - one cut in half - crayons, pre-cut eyes, ears and nose and a glue stick - see the result in T's perch above)
Sophia with her dad (awww.) - I know, where are the other guests? I didn't clear posting their pictures with them, so they are noticeably absent from this post - but trust me, they were there. 

Silenced de-whooo-ed (hahaha) blowers and owl masks

Felted and feathered utensil holders made with Mason jars; H & S especially ogled the googly eyes

Of course, their actual birthday wasn’t quite so be-feathered. We had singing and presents, yes, but we also had the most beautiful, peaceful snowfall (as seen here on our not-really-disposed-of-yet-Christmas-tree), attempt #1 at the owl cake and Henry’s discovery of his father’s mandolin.

Sigh - happy birthday, guys.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

on making hats

I still get these weird, misguided ideas about the process of art – like there needs to be a preparedness strategy in place before it can commence (having the twins around for two years, I really should know better).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Whoo-se invitations...

I am going to try this week to be good about showcasing some of the things we’ve been working on – as it’s a pretty special week... 


I am looking forward to this whole second birthday much more than I should. Lisa at the Gaub Blog introduced me to Pinterest and I’ve become a wee addict – especially seeing all the ways you can arrange food (?!). When Tony and I were talking about a ‘theme’ for the twins’ birthday party it was hard - Pixar Cars 2 or the summit meeting of the Disney princesses? Tough choice. But we chose owls (another Lisa steal) and are calling it “Twoo's-a-hoot!”

I know, owls have been done – but we decided to go one step further (or backwards?) and do it homespun. So we’ve been making everything from the decorations to the favors to the t-shirts and hats, to the utensil holders all using stuff we had around the house. And I couldn’t be happier with what my two little creative minds have come up with.

That is, except, the invitations. Coinciding with my want to ‘art-more’ for the new year, and to use the new fabulously-handmade-leather journal which my husband made me for a Christmas gift – I decided (duh) to make a digital illustration and print them. Follow my thought process? Good. No one does. 

Admittedly, I don’t know the first thing about digital illustration. So what’s a good mom to do who wants to set a good example for her children? Seek help from peers? Consult a good reference book? Ask a librarian? Fudge it. Without a doubt – hit-that-nail-with-an-egg-beater-until-it-scores-a-touchdown.

I let Henry and Sophia pick out all the colors and the font – and I…err… hand sketched the original illustration and scanned in it (which I think is cheating? Yes? But I couldn't figure out how to draw with a mouse). Aside from being married to the world’s best bookbinder, he also doubles as a paper-and-envelope-hoarder – so whenever supplies are being pitched at work (which happens a bit when you work at American Printing and Envelope) I get all the odds and ends – which, once accumulated, is enough mailing supplies to potentially bring the postal service to its knees.
The results are okay – not bad for a first attempt – we’ll have to see how future efforts come out. And Henry and Sophia were able to help with printing, cutting (well, not really), folding and stuffing and sealing.
...and then came up with the own ideas of transporting and delivery.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

well, they do like boats...

After spending over an hour looking for an article on a certain ‘frig’ in a 1799 paper, I couldn’t resist.

 Maybe I’ll turn this into little t-shirts for H & S and prove myself an inappropriate mom to anyone but early American historians.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On taking a new direction

Again, I am sorry for not keeping better updates on Henry and Sophia (especially for the distance readers) – though they’ll be two soon, so it is pretty easy to guess what they’ve been up to (or more accurately, what they’ve been keeping me up to). At the start of 2011, Henry and Sophia weren’t saying/doing much of anything.


They were barely mobile. They were barely eating. Things have exploded. Now they are not only speaking, but modifying my grammar (no joke, I used who instead of whom and Sophia was spot-on in her correction). They are walking…and running and jumping and just yesterday, out of their cribs.

They are, quite literally, marching on. 

On the food-making front, I found myself in possession this holiday season of several new KitchenAid attachments (including the flour mill and the pasta maker) and since then, the appliance has not once, but twice threatened to leave the premises. I keep cautioning it that if she’s tired now, just WAIT until I get the sewing machine attachment (I will make this thing both feed AND cloth my young).

And because I am raising culinary geniuses, we found it fitting this holiday season to make people a cookbook as a gift. A {wee} cookbook really and mainly sugar-based – which the twins selected their favorite recipes for – and which called for their making of the main ingredient for (vanilla extract). [I tried to upload it, but I can't figure it out with blogger - if anyone *really* wants a copy, I'd be happy to get you one.] ;)

Since my last post Henry, Sophia and I appeared on Coffee with Konnie, a local Worcester cable show where I mostly talked about Goodnight Worcester and how little I know about ISBN numbers.

My favorite feedback so far has been:

“I think it’s awesome that you have no idea where the kids go in the end.”  

“Your spice rack is incredible.” 

If you have 28 free minutes, you might enjoy it.

Three quick things:

1.     Cappy is a greyhound

2.     I’m not a stay-at-home-mom

3.     I don’t know anything about IP law

But more forward thinking (because what is a New Year’s Day but that really?) I recently discovered that I have some feelings about art things, well, I like.

Maybe it’s the job seeping in.

As a result I plan on taking the blog to a new place – or direction.


Because creativity is important – and my children will need a place to do it, explore, enhance, celebrate life, food, events and yes, art. And I am feeling overwhelmingly compelled to share these stories – perhaps even more so than the more infant-centered-ness we’ve been on. 

“Two Cents” at the start, was really a blog about babies. And shocking as this (myself included) is, Henry and Sophia are not babies anymore – they are walking, talking and most importantly creating toddlers. So I’m redoing this space and how I express our imaginative comings and goings – and I hope you’ll join me (but understand if just another artsy blog just isn’t your thing). I’m not sure what it will be, and to be honest I still haven’t hashed out what it won’t be. But consider yourself warned – as already stated, the twins turn two soon and we’re already well-into preparing some projects for it…